The cavern was a tunnel of transparent blue ice filled with an eerie glow where sunlight refracted down from above. Andrewâ€™s dizziness redoubled as they entered and he reached out and grabbed onto a crack in the wall with his bare hand to keep from falling.
â€œItâ€™s warm!â€ Surprise overcame dizziness and he managed to stand properly.
â€œYouâ€™re joking right?â€ Lydia moaned. â€œI wish I’d stayed outside with Bennu.”
â€œNo.” Andrew turned and stared at her in surprise. Complaining was so unlike her. â€œI like it here.”
“Itâ€™s beautiful,” Kimi said. “Itâ€™s the most perfect den I’ve ever seen. I could nest here very happily.”
â€œIt is, isn’t it,” Andrew agreed.
“Itâ€™s pretty enough,” Lydia said. “But the cold is seeping into my bones and making me ache.”
“Eh, itâ€™s not that bad,” Karen said. “It is a bit chilly, and I’d say perfect was too extravagant a word. But itâ€™s quite pleasant.”
“You donâ€™t like it because youâ€™re the flame warrior,” Kimi said. “Itâ€™s the nature of the cold to leech heat away. Thatâ€™s why Bennu wanted to stay outside.”
Lydia looked at Kimi for a moment and then swore. “Why didnâ€™t I think of that?” she growled. She stalked over to where Andrew was still holding into the wall and hugged him. Warmth flowed into him and he managed to let go of the wall without falling.
â€œWhat the heck?â€ he said
“Is that better?â€ she asked through chattering teeth.
“A bit, thank you.” He noticed she was shivering. “Are you okay, Lyd? What did you do?”
“I-Iâ€™ll be o-okay,” she said. “Just hurry up and find the damned bracelet. I can’t do that too often.” She pulled a disposable space blanket from her backpack and tried to open it with shaking fingers.
After watching her fumble with it unsuccessfully, Karen took it off her, opened it up and helped her drape the silver foil round her shoulders.
“T-thanks.â€ Lydia huddled into the blanket. â€œThat probably wouldnâ€™t have hit me so badly elsewhere. I wish I’d known I could do that before. It would have made Drew feel better.”
“Donâ€™t make yourself ill on my account.” Andrew said and then gestured with his head. “Weâ€™re nearly there â€“ I can feel it. Come on!” He turned and led them further into the cave.
They entered a domed chamber where steps carved into the floor of the cave led down into the depths of the ice.
“Down there,” Andrew said. He started towards them, then stopped as a voice resounded in his mind.
Lydia! Help me!
“Bennu?” Lydia whispered.
Andrew turned and looked at her, she was staring back towards the entrance. She must have heard it too. He looked at Karen and saw she’d gone white.
â€œLyd?” he asked.
â€œBennu needs me!” she said. â€œSomethingâ€™s wrong.â€ She started back towards the entrance. â€œYou two find the bracelet. Iâ€™m going to help Bennu, he canâ€™t transform without me.â€
Andrew grabbed her wrist. “Are you sure he can transform at all with you weakened by helping me?”
Lydia frowned for a moment and then nodded. “I’ve got enough energy for that. Be quick though â€“ I think weâ€™ll need-“Â She broke off as Bennuâ€™s voice reached them again. â€œI have to go!â€
â€œBe careful,” Andrew called after her and turned to Karen. â€œAre you coming with me?”
â€œItâ€™s not like Iâ€™d be much use out there,” she said and the headed down the steps together.
Was this singing in his blood what Lydia had felt when she got close to her bracelet? It must be. No wonder sheâ€™d been so determined to get into the Flame Palace, This was more insistent than the mermaids’ song. After this, he doubted their song would affect him again.Â He fought his returning exhaustion and quickened his pace. He wanted to reach the items he could feel calling him, and if Lydia was anything to go by they would fix this.
“Do you think Lydâ€™s okay?” Karen asked. “Who knows what made Bennu call for her.”
“She will be,” he replied. “Itâ€™s not like we’d be much use. Kimi daren’t transform until I find my bracelet, and you haven’t even met your heart friend yet.”
“No.” Karen frowned. “Kimi and Bennu both turned up near the Gate. Mine didnâ€™t, and I think itâ€™s because he couldn’t. And I’ve been having dreams since we got here about him calling for me.”
“You mentioned that,” Andrew said. “What do you think, Kimi?”
“I’ve been wondering where Karen’s heart friend is,” she conceded. “Itâ€™s not impossible heâ€™s been captured.” The leopard looked like she might say more, but then her fur stood on end and she yelped, “Ice Spiders! Run!”
Andrew glanced back and saw a hoard transparent spiders the size of labradors scuttling towards them. Adrenaline took over and he fled as fast as he could. As he ran he could hear Karen pounding along behind him.
They rounded a corner andÂ found a dais carved into the ice. A pair of knives which looked like they were made of ice and a silvery bracelet, similar to Lydia’s and set with a sapphire lay on it. As held out his hands and began to glow with a pale blue light he heard Karen shriek behind him.
The bracelet and knives flew to him, but he was too busy turning in time to see Karen being dragged away by the spiders. Her shoulder was bleeding and he he could see a thin rime of frost spreading out from the wound. That couldnâ€™t be good.
He was about to give chase when something bumped against his hand. He looked down and saw the bracelet and knives hovering there. He paused long enough to place the bracelet on his wrist and stick the knives in his belt, then he took off after the spiders.